Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Marvel's Luke Cage

I finished the Netflix series Luke Cage last night. I loved it.

Luke, himself, was a great, positive, likeable character. Though he often tried to avoid getting involved in the conflicts, for as many times as he said he wasn't a hero, when it came down it, he would always to step up to defend others. Even in the final part of the story, when all of NYPD was hunting him, and he was on the verge of just leaving town, he saw something going down that he could stop, he couldn't ignore it.

Being a character I know nothing about, this portrayal made me really like him, and I really appreciated that about this show. I haven't finished watching Jessica Jones, in part because everyone in that show is just SO miserable and difficult to like, that it's hard for me to get into it. Superhero stores are definitely escapism, and wish-fulfillment fantasies, so I appreciate characters that have fantastic powers and want to use them. I always respond positively to a story about someone being excited by their abilities, because that's how I think I would be. As such, that's probably why Killgrave was the only character I really liked in JJ, because he appreciated his powers. Jessica was just too mopey about them, and I understand why, but that is hard for me to relate to, and I feel Luke Cage did the reluctant hero bit better, because while he may not have asked for his powers, he was more willing to use them for good.

Shades was my favorite character, after Luke. He was committed to his path, but he was also calm, logical, and clear headed about everything. In the first part of the show, I liked that he was trying to reign in Cottonmouth, keep him focused on the business, not get distracted by the Luke Cage situation. And again, when Diamondback appeared and turned out to be off his rocker, Shades was there trying to keep everything under control, and not endanger their position. I was afraid a couple of times he was going to pay for his sins by being killed off, but I'm glad he wasn't, and would be available for use in a season 2.

As for the two main villains, Cottonmouth and Diamondback: I feel something was off there. I don't know anything about Luke Cage in comics, him or his villains. I assume these are both characters from the comics, but I feel that by both having snake names, they should have been more of a team, or had more of a history together, rather than being from vastly different places and it just happenstance that they each have a snake street name from when they were kids. Whenever Diamondback was mentioned before he was introduced, I pictured them as a snake-themed criminal organization, like the Five Deadly Venoms, or Deadly Viper Assassins from Kill Bill (which I suddenly realized is actually probably a reference to Five Deadly Venoms), and was disappointed that there was no history or relationship even hinted at.

Usually, I enjoy personal stories between the hero and villain, and I enjoy a good insane villain, but in this case I liked Cottonmouth more, of the two, because it wasn't a personal story and because he wasn't crazy. He was just a criminal businessman, and Luke started interfering with his business. Diamondback immediately seemed insane, and I guess in this fairly sane, real-world setting, he felt like he didn't fit in. It felt like he was a little too Joker from The Dark Knight, too chaotic/watch the world burn, as long as he took down Luke. I mean, even if he had defeated Luke at the end, he was going down, the cops were there ready to take him out, he would lose his empire, while Cottonmouth was mostly focused on getting a business obstacle out of his way so he could make his money and build his influence and power.

The rest of the characters were sufficiently interesting, I liked seeing Claire again, tying this show to Daredevil for me (does she show up in Jessica Jones? There's some allusions to her meeting Luke previously, so I assumed its in that show), and I liked the teaser at the end of the show that seems to hint that she will appear in Iron Fist (I'm rather excited for this one, being a fan of martial arts movies). Turk's brief appearances also tie the shows together, which again, I appreciate the world building. Misty Knight was mostly likeable, and honestly I think I'd be up for seeing a show focused on her.

Though I am not a fan of the styles of music used in Luke Cage, I enjoyed the use of it in the show. It is such a part of the feel of the show, such a part of the character of Cottonmouth, that as a musician myself, that actually might be another reason why Cottonmouth resonated with me more than Diamondback. I did legitimately like the group performing at Harlem's Paradise in the first episode, and kinda want to hunt down the songs featured.

In a similar way that I am not really familiar with the music in the show, I am not familiar with Harlem, or black communities, but I appreciated the cultural aspect of the show. I don't think I've ever seen a blaxploitation film, and I found the focus on race, and black history, and representation fascinating. Somebody I know told me something to the effect of, one of the reasons this show wasn't as relate-able to them was there were no white people in the cast. And of course, that's not true, there were like two white guys in it! Detective Scarfe, and probably maybe some other guy I don't remember. And not everyone was black, there were a couple of Latin people too.

Of course, their point wasn't that they can't watch something comprised of an nearly-entirely black cast, but that their viewpoint can be foreign (or uncomfortable) to white people. I've watched quite a few Japanese TV shows, I've watched Chinese martial arts films, I lived in South America for two years, so to see something that's doesn't feature white people in and of itself isn't new to me, but I guess a show with that viewpoint is new to me. The shadow of oppression and minimizing a person for their gender or race is over the entire show, and that is not something I am used to. I don't know what it's like to feel oppressed for my race or skin color, I don't know what it's like to be persecuted by authority, but the sentiments all felt legitimate to me and I appreciated those viewpoints being expressed in the show, because it is rather foreign to me. I don't really understand the existence of racism, but more importantly, I don't know what it's like to be subject to racism, and I think this show provided that insight very naturally.

One final thought was that the ending was more bittersweet than I expected. In the final episode as the final conflicts were being resolved, I thought they were all being given a nice, happy, resolution. And then suddenly things go a bit sour, but not in an off-putting way, but again, a sort of real-life-the-good-guys-may-have-triumphed-but-evil-is-not-fully-vanquished sort of way. Just when it looked like everything was going his way, the tertiary villain is off the hook, Luke is going back to prison, and Misty is devastated by a mistake that cost someone their life, and it's her fault and she is told so, in rather strong terms. In a way it felt like it was leaving things set up for a second season, but it also felt like, no, this is how the real world works. Sure, Luke saved Harlem from an arms dealer, but he also broke out of prison, and needs to pay for that. Sure, the cops know Miriah killed someone, but they haven't enough proof to get her through the system, which can be supplanted by connections and money. It put a bit of a damper on the high of thinking Cage had conquered all, but it also grounded it in a believable way, that I liked.

Well, I think that concludes by thoughts and feelings on the show. It was an enjoyable superhero story, with some deeper, meaningful real world relate-ability, that was presented in a way that didn't break my fantasy-escapism requirements, and left me with things to consider beyond the superhero aspects of it. It feels like a mostly complete story, one I am happy with as is, if there is no second season, but also a story I would look forward to seeing more of, if there is a second season.

I'd call that a success.

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